10/08/2017 3:54 PM IST | Updated 10/08/2017 6:27 PM IST

The Horrible Way So Many Indians Treat Their Young Tenants Needs To Stop Immediately

Moral policing taken to a whole new level.

Arko Datta / Reuters

For the last few days, a YouTube video of a heated exchange between the residents of Pilot Court in Gurgaon's Essel Towers has been doing the rounds. It shows a male resident screaming at a woman, demanding to know who her landlord is so he can inform them that their tenants are "supporting prostitution in the society".

The basis of his argument is that the female tenant objected to his alleged harassment of other women who were visiting their male friends in the society. This incident is only one of the numerous instances of harassment single men and women, who rent accommodation in the national capital, face daily.

Any rational human being would bristle at the accusation the man flings at the woman with such insolence. In 2017 if property-owners fail to wrap their heads around the fact that not all interactions between men and women are sexual in nature, what hope is there of acceptance of matters far more taboo?

This kerfuffle and attempts at moral policing aren't new to Essel Towers. In April this year, the gated society earned the ire of unmarried tenants when the residents welfare association (RWA) decided that visitors of the opposite sex would not be allowed into the society's premises after 10 pm. Guards started showing up at single tenants' houses for questioning and to rudely ask guests to leave. One woman reported that she was asked what "business" she had, taking her uncle to her "bedroom" by a woman resident.

Presumably, if the same treatment was doled out to guests of families within the same society, there would be unbridled chaos. Such disrespect is unthinkable to most of us, but the courtesy clearly does not extend to the guests of single, young tenants. Those of us who live in housing societies are used to seeing young men and women tip-toeing out of friends' houses without making eye contact with neighbours — the price unmarried tenants pay in the city, as in many other cities, for socialising.

If you've ever tried to rent a house in India as a single person, unless you're very lucky, you'll encounter a bizarre number of humiliating restrictions.

But why single out Essel Towers alone? Housing societies and buildings across the country are guilty of being obsessed with monitoring who goes into and comes out of single people's homes. If you ever try to rent a house in India as a single person, unless you're very lucky, you'll encounter a bizarre number of humiliating restrictions you'll be expected to agree to before the rent agreement is signed. From pets to non-veg to alcohol and cigarettes to loud music to overnight visitors to visitors of the opposite sex to simply any visitors at all, there is no telling which aspect of the single person's life the landlord might decide to scrutinize and disapprove of.

Sure, an argument can be made that as the owner of the house, one should have the right to have the final say in what flies in their houses. And since the Constitution guarantees an individual's right to practise his/her religion freely, it pretty much means that dietary and lifestyle restrictions can be imposed on prospective tenants citing religious beliefs.

The day a law is passed to ban discriminating landlords from renting out their properties, they will find it in their hearts to be okay with all the things they previously found so abhorrent. Unfortunately, since that isn't going to happen any time soon, landlords and RWAs continue to impose outrageous rules on single men and women in the name of 'morality' and 'decorum'.

The most commonly used refrain to justify these rules is that youngsters create a ruckus with their partying and late-night visitors.

The most commonly used refrain to justify these rules is that youngsters create a ruckus with their partying and late-night visitors. It is undeniable that having insensitive neighbours who play loud music and slam doors at all times of the day and night is a hellish experience. Yes, many youngsters are guilty of that too, and sure, there need to be rules to ensure that doesn't happen. But it is unfair to limit this rule to young people alone.

It's purely about imposing the majority's idea of virtue on an already harassed, burdened minority. Self-appointed custodians of young India's moral fibre come up with hare-brained ways of making unmarried tenants' lives miserable because they know they're not going to be held accountable. Sex, of course, is the easiest sword to dangle over their heads.

It's the oldest trick in the book, shaming people into submission by attacking their characters that will be "exposed" if they don't fall in line. So many of us, fed up of the constant judgement and persecution, simply pack up and leave. Even as India thumps its chest about becoming the world's youngest country by 2020, we have to ask ourselves — what exactly are we so proud of?

It is unconscionable that in this day and age, simply existing, living in peace without strangers butting into our lives, is such a big ask.

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